FTC v. OMICS: a landmark predatory publishing case

In March of 2019, upon review of numerous allegations of predatory practices against the publisher OMICS International, the U.S. District Court for the District of Nevada ordered OMICS to pay $50.1 million in damages. The case marks one of the first judgments against a publisher accused of predatory practices and could be a signal of greater publisher oversight to come.


In March of this year, a US federal court ordered OMICS International to pay over $50 million in damages stemming from a 2016 lawsuit brought by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), the first such action against a ‘predatory’ publisher.  The FTC was moved to act against the Hyderabad, India-based open access publisher and its owner, Srinubabu Gedela, after receiving a multitude of complaints from researchers concerning several systematic fraudulent practices.

In April we wondered if this decision would be more than a public record and condemnation of OMICS’ practices, but also act as a deterrent to other similar operations. Stewart Manley, a lecturer for the Faculty of Law at the University of Malaya, has gone deeper in examining this topic in two recent articles: “On the limitations of recent lawsuits against Sci‐Hub, OMICS, ResearchGate, and Georgia State University” (subscription required) featured in the current issue of Learned Publishing, and “Predatory Journals on Trial: Allegations, Responses, and Lessons for Scholarly Publishing from FTC v. OMICS” from the April issue of Journal of Scholarly Publishing (subscription required).

Mr. Manley was also recently interviewed for Scholastica’s blog where he addressed several key questions on this topic and felt that other questionable publishers will likely not be deterred if OMICS wins on appeal or simply refuses to comply with the order. He also lays out the key takeaways from FTC v. OMICS for publishers, academics, and universities.

Another recent article, “OMICS, Publisher of Fake Journals, Makes Cosmetic Changes to Evade Detection” by Dinesh C. Sharma for India Science Wire discusses a recent study showing the evolution of OMICS journals to mimic legitimate journals, making it difficult to distinguish between authentic and fake journals using the standard criteria. Rather than make substantive changes to their practices, OMICS is finding ways to more effectively evade quality checks.

Despite the hits OMICS has taken in actual court and in the court of public opinion, with an appeal in the offing, the final outcome of this matter is still to be determined. Additionally, as Mr. Manley points out in his Q&A, enforcing a judgment such as this is difficult, especially when the defendant is from a foreign jurisdiction. OMICS has yet to comply with the order and there is little reason to believe they ever will. We will continue to monitor this case and will provide updates as they become available.

Signs of a predatory publisher

The variety of tactics used by predatory publishers to fool unsuspecting authors into submitting their work are frustrating and dishonest to be sure, but they also provide us at Cabells with the motivation to keep working at exposing them. But what does it mean when these deceitful operations no longer try very hard to trick anyone?


“Really? That’s the best they could do?”  That was our initial thought here at Cabells after receiving the most recent invitation to publish that crossed our collective desk. We then thought, “Who would be tricked into thinking this is a genuine invitation from a legitimate publisher? Did they really think this would work?” Our second thought was a bit more troublesome, “Are they even trying to fool anyone at this point?”

Nice day!

We have learnt about your published precious paper in LEARNED PUBLISHING with the title Cabells’ Journal Whitelist and Blacklist: Intelligent data for informed journal evaluations, and the topic of the paper has impressed us a lot.

Researchers specializing in a wide range of disciplines have expressed keen interests in your paper.

That’s it. That’s the entire message followed by two links, one to “Contribute Your Articles” and another to “Become the Editorial Member.”  At least some of the language above is likely familiar to anyone who has had an article published in an academic journal and is fairly easy to identify as suspicious, to say the least.

However, there is usually a bit more of an “honest” effort to seem like a legitimate operation. At least a bit more wooing in the text of the invitation. To be frank, these folks seem to be mailing it in a bit. After clicking the link, there was not much evidence present to move us from our initial impression:

Among the red flags: despite claiming to publish 39 journals, SCIREA lists approximately 10,800 editors; that would be around 277 editors per journal. It is safe to say there are not enough articles to go around for each of these editors to be kept busy.

There are also many of the standard red flags waved by most predatory operations:

  • the promise of rapid publication (“manuscripts are peer-reviewed and a first decision provided to authors approximately 20 days after submission; acceptance to publication is undertaken in 5 days.”)
  • mention of an APC but with no further information (“free for readers, with article processing charges (APC) paid by authors or their institutions”) – the link leads nowhere, which brings us to our next warning sign
  • numerous non-working links:

The four links in the column on the left: Journals, Articles, Conferences, and Editors are functional and take the user to those respective pages. The remaining 17 links in the three columns to the right are all non-functioning links that simply bump up to the top of the current page.

These signs taken together would likely be enough to alert most academics that they are probably looking at a predatory publisher’s website. Here at Cabells, we have the luxury of a team of experts who can dive in to remove all doubt and shine a light on these types of operations through inclusion in our Journal Blacklist. Stay tuned for an update on the results of the investigation which is still in its beginning stages, SPOILER ALERT, things are not looking good for SCIREA.

The fact that there is not much of an effort on the part of SCIREA to come across as legitimate is a concern. Is this an indication that subterfuge is no longer necessary to achieve their goal of collecting manuscripts and APCs? Is it now enough just to announce your presence as an outlet for publication, even an obviously dishonest one, and the money will come rolling in due to authors needing/wanting to have their work published?

We will continue to monitor this situation and will report our findings. As always, we love hearing from the academic community with feedback, tips or questions on predatory activity; please don’t hesitate to contact us at blacklist@cabells.com.

If at first you don’t succeed…

Last year, we were approached by the editors of Social Sciences, published by Science Publishing Group (Science PG), regarding an article we published in Learned Publishing, the journal of the Association of Learned & Professional Society Publishers.  The article, “Cabells’ Journal Whitelist and Blacklist: Intelligent data for informed journal evaluations” presented readers with an overview of our Journal Whitelist and Journal Blacklist and delivered insight into the construction and maintenance of the products. The piece also discussed the troubling growth of predatory publishing and our efforts to help combat this problem. SciencePG contacted us to let us know that “the topic of the paper has impressed [them] a lot” and extended an invitation not only to publish the paper in their “journal” but to join their Editorial Board as a member/reviewer.  There were several red flags in their communication, so after an investigation by our Blacklist team, the journal was promptly added to the Journal Blacklist. You can read more about this incident here.

Well, the folks at SciencePG must not be faithful readers of The Source (?!), because they are back again (twice in three days, no less) with invitations to have our recent article from the Journal of Business-to-Business Marketing, “Publishing in an Environment of Predation: The Many Things You Really Wanted to Know, but Did Not Know How to Ask” included in their publication, International Journal of Business and Economics Research, and also for us to serve as “Lead Guest Editors” and/or editorial board members of the journal:

And then:

Having recalled our previous encounter with SciencePG, we were not at all surprised to find the International Journal of Business and Economics Research already included in our Journal Blacklist:

While we admit to being a bit amused by the irony of the situation, this contact serves as a reminder to us that our continued diligence and commitment to our mission is sorely needed. Predatory publishers are relentless and cast as wide a net as possible, knowing that just a few “bites” will keep them in business. The fact that they are repeatedly reaching out to us about our articles chronicling the dangers of predatory journals and publishers, speaks volumes.

Some invitations, like these extended by SciencePG, are rather easy to identify as deceitful, especially for our crack team of Journal Blacklist investigators. However, some communications are not as easy to classify and require thorough vetting. Rest assured, we will continue our work in exposing these frauds and will force them out of the shadows.

Building bridges at NASIG 2019

The theme of this year’s NASIG Annual Conference – Building Bridges – was appropriate for a number of reasons. Not only did the meeting take place in the City of Bridges, but the idea of connecting the various global communities within academia was present in many of the sessions. What’s more, the core mission of NASIG is to “facilitate and improve the distribution, acquisition, and long-term accessibility of information resources in all formats and business models”: in essence, building a bridge to knowledge.

There were an array of sessions building on this “connectivity” theme: discussions on linking to disabled members of the community through greater accessibility, to resource users through technical and customer services, and to future academics through digital preservation, to name just a few. However, the session that caught our collective eye at Cabells was one that focused not so much on building bridges, but rather on blocking the way down a dangerous road …

While there is no debate (we think) that predatory journals are causing problems in the scholarly publishing landscape, there are differing opinions on the magnitude of these problems.  “Minding Your Ps and Qs: Predatory Journals, Piracy, and Quality Questions” was presented by Marydee Ojala, Editor of Online Searcher Magazine and Regina Reynolds, Director of the U.S. ISSN Center and Head of the ISSN Section of the Library of Congress.  Ms. Ojala, a former academic and corporate librarian, spoke of the danger, especially in today’s ‘fake news’ environment, of calling into question the validity of scholarly research by muddying the water with junk science and ‘sting’ articles filled with nonsense.  Ms. Reynolds suggested the problem of predatory publishing is overstated and exists due to a market created by academia through several enabling forces.

What was made clear in this session is the fact that more and more librarians are becoming aware of predatory publishing and the dangers it poses. They are also becoming keenly aware that they must rethink how they evaluate collections and what researchers are finding in available databases. Instead of going directly to subscription databases, many researchers turn first to Google or Google Scholar. A quick search on these platforms will make it clear the results contain predatory articles alongside legitimate ones. The use of LibGuides, instructional videos, posters, presentations and even one-on-one communication to educate researchers can go a long way to changing the methods they use.

When discussing whether the problem of predatory journals is overstated (a firm ‘no’ in Cabells’ opinion), Mr. Reynolds made several interesting points.  Enabling market forces such as open access, a rapidly growing number of scholars worldwide, the disadvantages of the those in the global south, and the ‘publish or perish’ mindset have created a fertile ground for predatory publishing activity. To think that it will not be taken advantage of is short-sighted.  Predatory journals give scholars who wouldn’t otherwise have a chance to publish a chance to publish; this highlights an uneven playing field in academia that must be corrected to stem the tide of predatory enterprise.

Ms. Reynolds discussed the idea that predatory journals exist as a response to an environment, and market, created by academia itself.  Is the scholarly community willing to turn its collective back on predatory publications?  Is every academic serving on the editorial board of a predatory journal doing so without their knowledge and consent? Of course not, just as not everyone who publishes in a fake publication is duped into doing so. There must be a concerted effort throughout the scholarly community to reject the easy route to publication and CV glory on the back of fraudulent publications. As Ms. Ojala pointed out, there are resources (most notably the Journal Blacklist) that are working to shine a light on deceitful operations to alert researchers, librarians and administrators to stay away; as Ms. Reynolds pointed out, these stakeholders must be willing to heed the warning.

Lasting impressions from another great SSP Annual Meeting

The Society for Scholarly Publishing’s Annual Meeting, the 41st such event, was held this year in beautiful San Diego and the Cabells team once again had an amazing time reconnecting with old friends, making new ones, and attending excellent sessions full of great discussions. The focus of this year’s meeting was on connecting stakeholders from around the globe to usher in a new era of scholarly communication. A common theme that emerged in so many sessions was the importance of previously underrepresented groups and markets being connected to the scholarly community as we move ahead to tackle new challenges and bring about the “New Status Quo.

Having had some time to step away and reflect on the meeting we are imbued with a sense of community and the pressing need to work toward removing barriers that prevent the sharing of research. Things were kicked off on a very high note by Dr. Mariamawit Yeshak, Assistant Professor of Pharmacognosy at Addis Ababa University, who spoke of the disconnect between the rate of publication and impact on societal development in Africa in her opening keynote.  Dr. Yeshak stated that “research is not complete until it is shared” and that was a common theme that could have been applied to many sessions throughout the meeting.  The need to leverage technology to ensure indigenous peoples and their methods in key areas such medicine, farming and animal husbandry are not marginalized was made clear.

Inclusion and diversity can not just be buzz words. They must be the tenets that we use to build the future of scholarly communication.  This thought was also front and center during the day 2 keynote talk by Betsy Beaumon, CEO of Benetech, a nonprofit organization with the mission to empower communities with software for social good.  Ms. Beaumon spoke of the need to think of those with disabilities from the outset when developing technology.  The key to her message was, “everything born digital must be, and can be, born accessible.”  There are one billion disabled people on the planet and the vast majority of them cannot consume information through the traditional methods that have dominated the information sharing landscape.

Technological innovations are opening a world of possibilities to those who were previously denied access to knowledge. While this is a huge move in the right direction, it is also important to think critically of existing technology and examine just how accessible the products and platforms are (or quite possibly, are not) and how they can be made truly accessible to all.  While there has been significant progress made in this area, and more and more technology is being developed to be accessible from “birth,” there is still a great deal left to be done.

Thanks to all who made this year’s SSP Annual Meeting a memorable one, and we cannot wait to see you all next year!

Blacklist Appeals

Following this appeal process, a journal found to no longer qualify for Cabell’s Blacklist will be removed. Please note that removal from the Blacklist does, by no means, qualify a journal for Cabell’s Whitelist. Journals wishing to be included in Cabell’s Whitelist must follow the proper Whitelist application procedures and are subject to additional review to confirm qualification.

FTC’s victory will educate, but will it deter?

Word of the Federal Trade Commission’s $50 million court judgment against OMICS International and its owner, Srinubabu Gedela, has reached all corners of the academic community. While there is no question this is a step in the right direction, there is little reason to believe this will do much to slow the growing problem of predatory publishing.

The victory for the FTC was a decisive one, with the court granting a summary judgment – a decision without the need for a trial as no material facts were in dispute – and the message is clear: OMICS International is running a scam operation and the damage is real and impactful. If there are still those in the scholarly community who doubt the severity of the problem of predatory publishing, perhaps this judgment will convince them of the magnitude of the issue and the need to deal with it in a proactive manner.

While OMICS is the largest predatory publishing operation – there are currently 768 OMICS journals listed on Cabells’ Journal Blacklist – it is simply the most ravenous shark in a sea of predators. If/when OMICS actually halts their fraudulent operations – they are expected to appeal the decision – the vacuum created will quickly be filled by any number of bad actors looking to capitalize and snatch up the revenue that is now presumably up for grabs.

Fundamentally, there are two groups of researchers at play when it comes to predatory publishers. The first group is made up of researchers who might be considered “prey” – those who unwittingly fall victim to the ploys of predatory publishers. These researchers submit their paper for publication only to find that their work has been hijacked, part of their limited budget has been squandered on (often hidden) publication fees, and their careers have been compromised by this association with a fraudulent publisher.

The work of the FTC and news of their victory over OMICS will hopefully go far in protecting those who are unaware of the existence and deceitful nature of operations such as OMICS, and will educate them on the warning signs and help them steer clear of ever becoming involved going forward.

However, what (if any) impact this decision will have on the second group of researchers, those who knowingly use predatory publishers to advance their career or for other professional gains remains to be seen.  The reason predatory publishers have been able to flourish and grow exponentially is that there is an insatiable market for their services due in large part to the ‘publish or perish’ system forced upon academics. The publication of research papers is at an all-time high with estimates of close to two million papers published each year, with little in the way of a quality control system in place. Predatory publishers have simply identified and capitalized on an opportunity for illicit profit.

The focus on research and publication needs to be on quality and not quantity. Publication records need to be vetted and researchers held accountable for the outlets they choose for publication.  The respective bodies of knowledge for many fields are compromised and diluted by the dissemination of junk research. Unqualified candidates are getting hired, promoted and tenured on the backs of their ginned-up publication records. Predatory publishers and these researchers who support them are coming out ahead, while academia and knowledge are losing out.

Despite the decision against OMICS, certain researchers have been and will continue to look for shortcuts to publication. The onus is on administrators, department heads, funders, and academia at large to change – not just the process by which academics are measured by moving away from the “publish or perish” mindset, but also the methods used to monitor and vet research and publication activity.

The FTC’s victory may go a long way in reducing the number of researchers who can honestly say they were unaware of a problem with the journal they chose, but it will do little to stop those who are willful participants in this process without wholesale changes from other key stakeholders.

Yosemite Sam is at Yale University? And he’s on the editorial board of an academic journal??

yosemite sam ajbsrAccording to the fraudulent ‘journal’ American Journal of Biomedical Science & Research, published by Biomed Research and Technology, the answer is yes on both counts.  Thanks to a tip from a subscriber—a librarian who, along with several colleagues, received an email calling for editorial board members for this publication—our Journal Blacklist team initiated an investigation and lo and behold, among the ‘Honorable Editors’ on the journal’s Editorial Committee is one Yosemite Sam, of Yale University:

AJBSR screenshot
Wait, what?
Sam closeup.png
Upon closer inspection…

You can probably guess which of our Blacklist criteria the presence of Bugs Bunny’s archenemy (with all due respect to Elmer Fudd) violates (hint: it’s the one that expects editors to be living…or actually exist).  This is of course not the only violation for American Journal of Biomedical Science & Research, there were several other doozies such as:

  • Emails from journals received by researchers who are clearly not in the field(s) the journal covers
  • Scholars included on the editorial board without their knowledge or permission (not Yosemite Sam, though this would apply to him too)
  • Promise of rapid publication and/or unusually quick peer review (less than four weeks)
  • No policies for digital preservation
  • The same article appears in more than one journal

AJBSR blog 3.1.19

Unfortunately, not all predatory journals include cartoon characters on their editorial board, making them easy to spot if you know where to look. And, without a doubt, none are a laughing matter.  We’ll continue to keep on top of the different methods of deceit used by predatory publishers, closely investigate suspected journals, and report on those that prove to be fraudulent. We’ll also be sure to pass along any that give us a chuckle along the way.

Tracking predatory publishers

Recently, we here at Cabells were fortunate enough to have an article (Cabells’ Journal Whitelist and Blacklist: Intelligent data for informed journal submissions) published in Learned Publishing, the journal of the Association of Learned & Professional Society Publishers, which is read around the world. We were very excited about this opportunity and received many wonderful notes from around the academic community after publication.

One note, in particular, forced us to do a double-take. “Nooo,” we thought, “this can’t be a predatory journal inviting us to submit for publication (for only $770) our article on predatory journals…”

 

Sure enough, the editors of Social Sciences, published by Science Publishing Group (Science PG), wanted to let us know that “the topic of the paper has impressed [them] a lot” and extended an invitation not only to publish the paper in their “journal” but to also join their Editorial Board. Upon hearing this news our Blacklist team began an investigation (Science PG was already on our list of publishers to be reviewed, but we had not yet begun to investigate this particular journal) into Social Sciences and, with eight violations in total, the journal was promptly added to our Blacklist:

Just days after this episode, we were contacted by our friends at Emerald Publishing who were concerned that one of their respected journals, International Journal of Innovation Science, was being targeted by a possible fake journal with a very similar name, International Journal of Innovation Science and Research:

After our team carried out an investigation on the International Journal of Innovation Science and Research, it will come as no surprise that it too (with 10 violations) was added to our Blacklist (which as of this writing lists 9,156 fraudulent publications):

We love to hear from the scholarly community about situations like the ones described above, or any involving contact from deceitful publishers. While we have an ever-expanding list of publications slated for review for the Blacklist, we consider it a top priority to protect the community from active occurrences of predatory activity and to help shed light on these phony operations. Contact us with tips, concerns or to share your thoughts at blacklist@cabells.com.